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The Controversy Has Begun: Are Drones a Useful Tool, or An Illegal Invasion of Privacy?

Written by on Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Drones are a hot topic on this blog. They are undoubtedly the next step in aviation surveillance and warfare technology. Of course, whenever there’s a new wave of technology it usually comes with a whole set of complicated social and ethical issues. Only after a piece of technology breaks out and becomes widespread can we truly begin to examine it as a society and figure out which parts of it are acceptable, and which parts of it absolutely have to go.

About a year ago, North Dakota man Rodney Brossart became one of the first Americans to ever be arrested by local law enforcement with the help of a drone. In fact, he may even be the first American caught by a drone. And, as you might expect, the use of this new technology is raising some truly sticky questions about drones and the US legal system.

But to understand the situation, we first need to look at six cows. It’s hard to imagine that a few bovines are causing lawyers to take a magnifying glass to the US Constitution, but that’s how it all got started. Six cows randomly wandered onto Rodney Bossart’s property. When confronted about it, Bossart refused to hand over the livestock and even chased off police with a gun. Evidently, Bossart really loved those cows.

Grand Forks police called in SWAT, obtained a warrant, and prepared to storm Brsosart’s farm, but there was a problem: Brossart’s farm was so massive that it was impossible to know where he was, and searching the property for an armed and presumably dangerous man could get a police officer shot.

So, they how to buy antibiotics in canada called on a local Air Base. The police had earlier signed an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, spelling out the details of temporarily borrowing a Predator drone. The drone took to the air, and in a few moments it pinpointed Brossart’s exact location with laser-guided precision. The cops raided the place, tazed Brossart, and cuffed him.

Now, legal issues are cropping up over the drone. Brossart’s lawyer, Bruce Quick, is claiming that the use of the drone was excessive and violated Brossart’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protects him against unwarranted search and seizures. The police had a warrant, sure, but the judge never said anything about letting them use a drone to spy on his property from above. You see the problem?

On the other side of the fence, the state argues that the drone was necessary because Brossart and his family wielded high-powered rifles. The police simply needed the extra support to end a day-long standoff that was sucking up police manpower.

State prosecutor Douglas Manbeck thinks the situation is pretty cut and dry: “The use of unmanned surveillance aircraft is a non-issue in this case because they were not used in any investigative manner to determine if a crime had been committed. There is, furthermore, no existing case law that bars their use in investigating crimes.”

Well, that’s all to be determined, isn’t it? Brossart’s trial is scheduled later this month. This relatively minor court case may seem uninteresting to many and probably won’t catch the eye of the national media, but it could help shape future court policy that relates to drone privacy laws.

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